Last Friday, I gave a presentation at the Pilatus Owners and Pilots Association (POPA), the organization, or “type club,” for people who fly Pilatus airplanes. Pilatus is a leading manufacturer of single-engine turboprop aircraft, notably the PC-12.
My talk focused on weather, in particular icing. NTSB investigators see proof again and again that flying in icing conditions can be deadly. Different aircraft are equipped with different ways to combat inflight icing, but there is one defense that applies to all pilots of all aircraft, whether GA or commercial: training. Pilots should be able to detect changes in performance of their aircraft as icing develops. Pilots should hand-fly the airplane frequently to have a continuous understanding of what the icing is doing to the airplane and to avoid having the autopilot mask controllability degredation. They should know how to monitor and maintain appropriate icing speeds. They should train for stalls and approach to stalls with and without ice protections systems and be aware that the airplane with ice on the wings and tail can stall at angles that are as little as half those of a clean airplane. This can be a very nasty surprise to find oneself in a fully developed stall. Preparation and training are key to safe flight, particularly in icing conditions.
Which brings me to my second point. Membership and participation in type clubs can be extremely valuable for pilots in maintaining their knowledge and skills in flying. Many type clubs host discussion forums, publish magazines, and keep libraries of technical information. Many clubs are great about keeping members informed about service issues and can be a resource for all kinds of information about restoring, maintaining, and operating specific types of aircraft.
No matter what type of aircraft you own, operate, or maintain, chances are there is a type club for you. Check it out. I belong to a type club for pilots of Bonanza airplanes. Maybe I’ll see you at an upcoming meeting. Here’s a link to a talk I gave last year at the American Bonanza Society:
Earl F. Weener, Ph.D., took the oath of office as a Member of the National Transportation Safety Board on June 30, 2010. Dr. Weener is a licensed pilot and flight instructor who has dedicated his entire career to the field of aviation safety.
When I tell people about my work, I’m frequently asked about airline safety. Many recall major NTSB investigations, such as the TWA Flight 800 crash off Long Island, the American Airlines Flight 587 crash in New York City, or more recently, the Continental Flight 3407 accident outside Buffalo. Such tragedies — with their large loss of life — leave lasting impressions. Yet, most of the hundreds of aviation-related deaths each year occur in general aviation (GA) accidents.
GA is the term for flying that is neither airlines nor military. It includes a wide variety of aircraft, such as single-engine planes, floatplanes, helicopters, and business jets and turboprops. These usually smaller aircraft are often used for leisure trips, business trips, sightseeing, agricultural applications, emergency medical purposes, flight training, search and rescue, traffic reporting and many other uses. The pilots range from professionals earning a living flying to individuals with simply a passion for flying.
Domestic airline operators have racked up a remarkable safety record in the past two years. Large commercial transport aircraft experienced not a single fatal accident during this period – a welcome trend for commercial operations. I wish I could say the same for general aviation (GA). Sadly, in the recent ten day period from March 25th through April 3rd, ten fatal accidents occured involving GA light airplanes, ranging from a Cessna 150 to a Beechcraft Baron. That’s a rate of an accident per day, and just reflects the fatal accidents. Generally, there are five to six times as many accidents that do not involve fatalities but result in substantial damage or injuries, or both.
A soon-to-be-released NTSB statistical study of aircraft accidents from 2007 through 2009 will show the accident rate for Part 91 flying as essentially flat from 2000 through 2009. There were approximately 6 accidents per 100,000 flight hours, with about 1 in 6 of those accidents involving fatalities. This statistic includes both corporate and on-demand air taxi operations, which have accident rates approaching those of the commercial airlines. These operators, like the commercial operators, are to be congratulated on their safety record. However, as I pointed out, this is not the case for all Part 91 operations.